Torts Class Notes 9/3/03


Yesterday, we concluded intentional infliction of mental distress.  We learned if you’re a third party, you can recover only if you’re present and the defendant knows or with substantially certainty that you’re present.  Family members need not suffer physical harm, but can show emotional harm to recover.


In some jurisdictions, presence is not required.  Cole thinks that presence is an artificial requirement that covers most cases.  We figure if you intend to inflict emotional distress on someone, they have to be here.  The presence requirement is proof that you intended to cause emotional distress.  In those few cases that it is foreseeable to the defendant when he causes the harm would have the effect of causing intentional infliction of mental distress on a third party, in particular family members, isn’t it pretty clear that the family member should be able to recover?


The good thing about the presence rule is that it’s a bright line rule.


Trespass to Land


The intent for this tort is intent to enter.  It’s not an intent to cause harm or anything else.  Mistake does not negate intent here either.


You own a “reasonable space” above and below your property.


Courts will take common law doctrines and bend them to make cases fit.  In Bradley, the court says that you must demonstrate actual damages, which leaves the plaintiff out of luck as far as an intentional tort claim.  You can sue for trespass only if there is actual damage to your property.



Rogers v. Board of Road Com’rs for Kent County


The plaintiff’s husband died because the county left up a post that they were supposed to take down and he ran into it with his mower.


The Board had a license to install a snow fence.


The wife files a suit for trespass to land and for negligence.  The Board files a motion to dismiss, and it’s granted because of government immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.  So the Board says the wife has no legal claim on which they could win.


Did the lower court get this right?  Was the government immune?  No.  Why isn’t the government immune to a claim for trespass to land?  The court holds that the government has committed trespass to land, which is an intentional tort.  Governments are only immune for negligence (although most government entities waive such immunity).


For “garden-variety” torts, the state waives immunity.


Why do they do this?  Governments can get insurance for garden-variety torts.


If the government agent is engaged in a governmental function, the government will be immune.  They are not immune for actions that are not really part of the job.


The Restatement says that once the license or consent expires, your stuff on their land constitutes trespass.


Trespass to Chattels


Chattels are personal property.  Trespass to chattels is the “intermeddling” with your stuff.


With trespass to chattels, you must show actual damages.  We care more about you being hurt than your stuff being hurt.


As far as damages go, you look at the amount of damages to the good.


Glidden v. Szybiak


A little girl got bitten by a dog.


There is a statute mentioned in this case that says that people who own dogs are liable for what the dogs do unless the damage was caused by someone committing a tort.  The court ruled that there was no commission of a tort here.  In order for trespass to chattels to lie, the defendant would have had to demonstrate that there was damage to the dog.


What if a defendant places a bumper sticker for the Texas Beef Council on Oprah Winfrey’s car?  How would one quantify one’s damages?  You only get actual damages.  The only damages you get are the cost of getting the sticker removed and all the glue taken off.


Compuserve Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc.


Cyber Promotions was sending spam.  Compuserve got an injunction against Cyber Promotions to keep them from spamming.  Compuserve sues under the theory of trespass to chattels because they say the spam overload is slowing down their computers.


Compuserve must show actual damages.  What damages do they show in this case?  They show that they have lost business because of the spam.


Note that trespass to chattels typically involved tangible property.  This is a clever use of the tort to apply to intangible property.


Compuserve proved that they lost business and that their servers were slowed down.


Both the plaintiffs and the defendants used trespass to chattels.  So why does Compuserve win?


What’s the distinction between this case and eBay v. Bidder’s Edge?


Pearson v. Dodd


What do you do when stuff that doesn’t appear to be worth much gets stolen?


What happened in this case?  Two former employees of Senator Dodd went into his office and took some files.  They copied the files and then replaced them.  They gave the copies to a third party.


Why do they go after the reporters?  They don’t want the reporters going after information you don’t want them getting.


The employees have definitely committed the tort of invasion of privacy, which we’ll cover later in the course.


The plaintiff loses on the invasion of privacy claim because they weren’t the people that actually did it.


The trial court found that conversion had occurred, but on appeal, it was found that since the defendants only temporarily dispossessed the plaintiff and because it wasn’t important and unique intellectual property, conversion did not lie.  The information that was allegedly converted does not have monetary value; it is not for sale.


A hypothetical


A car dealer refuses to return plaintiff’s keys to him.  When the police come, the plaintiff gives back the keys but calls the plaintiff a crybaby.  Is there a cause of action here?  Is it conversion?  Is it conversion of the keys or of the car?  What did the court do?  They ruled that the defendant exercised dominion over the car.


Would you bother bringing this suit if you had an old, worthless car?  You only want to sue for conversion when the market value of the good converted is more than what it’s worth to you.  Otherwise, you’d probably want the thing back.


Conversion of a chattel is the forced sale of that chattel.  It gets sold, and then you get the proceeds from the sale.


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